The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Inadmissible Evidence begins as three characters—Bill Maitland, one of Her Majesty’s judges, and a clerk of the court—“come to some sort of life out of the blur of dream.” In this nightmarish dream prologue, Bill’s law office is temporarily metamorphosed into a courtroom where Bill is a prisoner on trial “for having unlawfully and wickedly made known, and caused to be procured and made known a wicked, bawdy and scandalous object.” Bill’s own life is the depersonalized “object” that is being tried. Bill pleads “not guilty” and, when asked to swear and affirm, ironically states, in bureaucratic jargon, his belief in “the technological revolution” and its attendant benefits and ills.

Bill is asked to proceed to his defense before the prosecution has made its case. He provides a rather disjointed history of his law career, asserts that he is indecisive, and confesses that he has “depended almost entirely on other people’s efforts.” Bill states that he had hoped only “to have the good fortune of friendship” and the “love of women”; he believes, however, that he hardly succeeded with the first and that he inflicted “more pain than pleasure” with the second.

As the dream ends, Bill emerges into consciousness and enters his office, where he addresses sexual innuendoes to Shirley, his secretary, and is hostile to Jones, his clerk. As a perfunctory apology for being late, Bill explains that he could not get a taxi, the first of many references he makes to not being noticed. As he prepares for Mrs. Garnsey’s visit, he tells Hudson about his private life with Liz, his mistress, and repeatedly asks him why he has foisted Mrs. Garnsey off on him. Hudson’s answer: “I’d say divorce was your line.” Act 2 will demonstrate the ties between Bill’s own precarious marriage and the failed marriages of his clients.

Before his first appointment, Bill speaks on the telephone to Anna, his wife, and to Liz, his mistress, then learns from Shirley, who is pregnant, that she is giving her notice. As the morning continues to deteriorate, Bill asks Hudson to become his partner, only to learn that Hudson is himself thinking of leaving. Mrs. Garnsey’s comments about leaving her husband also...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Osborne’s play is both naturalistic and experimental, both dream and reality. The play begins with a dream trial reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937), becomes naturalistic as the office routine is dramatized, and then, in act 2, vacillates between naturalism and stylization as Bill interviews his clients. Osborne’s stage directions concerning Bill’s telephone conversations indicate that the play’s ambiguity is deliberately contrived, that the audience cannot be sure what is real and what (or who) exists only in Bill’s mind. The telephone itself is a symbol of communication, a link to the outside world, but Bill’s ability to communicate lessens as the play unfolds. Anna, Bill’s wife, never appears onstage; she exists only on the phone.

Osborne insists upon a similar ambiguity for the “duologues,” the alternating monologues that replace dialogue as Bill interviews his clients. The stylization of the duologues is enhanced by the device of having the same actor play the three female clients and the same actor play Jones and Maples. Bill is forced to reenact his failed marriage, first with Mrs. Garnsey, then with Mrs. Tonks, and then with Mrs. Anderson; when he interviews Mrs. Anderson, there is no semblance of dialogue—the audience watches the two characters take turns speaking in a dramatic stream of consciousness. The clients are not important as characters, but as vehicles for prompting...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

British Theater in the 1950s and 1960s
In the early 1950s, British audiences watched imported American musicals;...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Theater of the Absurd
Theater of the absurd is drama that communicates a sense of the fundamental meaninglessness of...

(The entire section is 237 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

  • Mid 1960s: The Feminine Mystique (1963), by Betty Friedan, chronicles the growing sense of dissatisfaction...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Read Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and compare its “angry young man” to that of Inadmissible Evidence. Determine what has...

(The entire section is 198 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

A film version of Inadmissible Evidence was produced by Woodfall Films (United Kingdom) in 1968. The screenplay was written by Osborne...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Osborne’s The Entertainer (1957) chronicles the downfall of music hall performer Archie Rice in a period when that venue had become...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Brustein, Robert, “The English Stage,” in Tulane Drama Review, Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring 1966, p....

(The entire section is 255 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Anderson, Michael. Anger and Detachment: A Study of Arden, Osborne, and Pinter. London: Pitman, 1976.

Denison, Patricia D., ed. John Osborne: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1997.

Ferrar, Harold. John Osborne. New York: Columbia University Press, 1973.

Gilleman, Lu. The Hideous Honesty of John Osborne: The Politics of Vituperation. New York: Garland, 2000.

Goldstone, Herbert. Coping with Vulnerability: The Achievement of John Osborne. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982.

Hayman, Ronald. John Osborne. New York: Ungar, 1972.

Hinchliffe, Arnold P. John Osborne. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Page, Malcolm, and Simon Trussler. File on Osborne. London: Methuen, 1988.

Taylor, John Russell.“John Osborne.” In Contemporary Dramatists. 6th ed. Detroit: St. James, 1999.

Trussler, Simon. The Plays of John Osborne: An Assessment. London: Gollancz, 1969.